Tampa Bay Lightning v Pittsburgh Penguins

How the Pittsburgh Penguins might deal with the loss of Evgeni Malkin

To some extent, the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t been playing with the “real” Evgeni Malkin for about a season and a half. After winning the Art Ross Trophy with his league-leading 113 point season in 2008-09, Malkin’s been putting up relatively unimpressive numbers (77 points last season, 37 points in 43 games in 10-11).

In other words, it’s important to note that his health/game has been sliding for a while now. While Sidney Crosby’s concussions interrupted an astounding season abruptly, Geno’s injury seemed like the final straw rather than a sudden shocker.

That being said, it’s very possible that the 24-year-old Russian center would have found his rhythm over the next few months. The Penguins have played decent hockey with 80-percent Malkin, but what can they do without any Malkin whatsoever? Let’s study their options, some of which might bleed into each other.

Keep their feet on the accelerator

When we discussed Malkin’s struggles in January, one interesting theory surfaced: Penguins coach Dan Bylsma’s hard-charging, brawny style might not be a great fit for the Russian’s game. While Crosby’s willingness to go to “dirty goal” scoring areas fits well with this aggressive system, Malkin’s finesse game contrasts with that straight-forward mentality.

In the grand scheme of things, he will obviously be missed, but the Penguins can use the $8.7 million in cap space cleared by Malkin’s injury to lure some “rental” players to help fill some of the void (or at least bring that vision to fruition).

A healthy Crosby and Jordan Staal would present a solid one-two punch, so the Penguins don’t need to restrict their search to centers. Let’s glance at some pending free agents who might be worth a “rental.”

Sorting out potential trade targets of varying quality

(Click here if you want to do your own “scouting.”)

  • The Brad Richards dream: The Penguins would be one of the most interesting suitors in the very unlikely scenario of a Richards trade. The sublime passer’s cap hit is about $900K less than Malkin’s, so the trade could send monetary relief (plus draft picks and prospects) to Dallas for Richards. It’s still a long shot, though.
  • Square pegs in round holes: There are many fans in Pittsburgh who still hold a soft spot for enigmatic Russian Alex Kovalev, but he only really makes sense as a winger alongside Malkin. Jason Arnott is a slightly more realistic option, but he isn’t exactly a Swiss Army Knife of versatility either.
  • Right-handed shots would be a bonus: When the Penguins let Bill Guerin retire, they gave up their best right handed shot (at least among forwards). Two semi-interesting right handed snipers might become available: Michael Ryder and Milan Hejduk. Cap reasons would dictate Ryder’s move while Hejduk might become an option if the Avs slip out of playoff contention. Steve Sullivan, Teemu Selanne and Justin Williams would be even better options, but they are far less likely to be traded.
  • Two other interesting names: Speedy Sergei Samsonov and dirt-cheap playmaker Alex Tanguay could be interesting choices if the Penguins go for a buffet setup rather than one big splurge. Speaking of which:

Multiple moves?

Aside from that unlikely Richards scenario, the Penguins might try to mix and match players with some flaws rather than going for one big move. If any team can afford to give a player the Wade Redden treatment (stashing an expensive player in the minors if things don’t work out), it’s the deep-pocketed Penguins.

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The Penguins have at least some hope without Malkin, even if there will be plenty of times in which his world-class skills will be missed. Their system might be more seamless in his absence, with role players taking on bigger responsibilities. Most of all, though, the $8.7 million in cap space should come in handy. GM Ray Shero’s use of that space could be one of the most captivating storylines of this year’s trade deadline.

Playoff hopes take a jolt: Coyotes crush Bishop and the Bolts

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning tends net against the New York Islanders during the second period at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Of the surprises in the NHL so far this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning has to be right up there on the list.

In 2015, they went to the Stanley Cup Final. The future had looked bright, but this signified the Bolts’ arrival into the top tier of teams in the league. Last season, they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final and lost to the eventual champions from Pittsburgh. That was a playoff run that did not include Steven Stamkos until the deciding game of the East final.

This year? The Bolts are currently not in a playoff position. They’ve had issues defensively. They’ve had issues on offense. They’ve had issues with goaltending. They’ve dealt with injuries or illness to key players like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, and other important members of their lineup.

Looking to gain ground in the playoff chase, the Bolts had what looked to be the perfect opponent to mend their troubles — at least for one game. On Saturday, Tampa Bay faced the Arizona Coyotes, losers of four in a row and sitting above only Colorado in the Western Conference standings.

The perfect remedy, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

The Bolts lost 5-3, mostly because of a disastrous opening two periods. Ben Bishop started and was pulled after 40 minutes, allowing five goals on 17 shots.

Down a goal after the first period, things went south for the Bolts in the middle period. The Coyotes — one of only two teams in the entire league still stuck under 100 goals-for entering this game — beat Bishop for three goals on just nine shots in the second.

The Bolts are dead last in the Atlantic Division, five points back of third-place Boston. They are four points back of Toronto for the final wild card spot, but there are seven teams ahead of Tampa Bay in that race.

There is still lots of time left in the season. But the Bolts had stressed the importance and urgency needed on this current six-game road trip, and they haven’t delivered.

A loss to the Coyotes would certainly seem like rock bottom.

Hartnell’s winner halts Hurricanes comeback attempt

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 24:  Scott Hartnell #43 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on October 24, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Blue Jackets defeated the Avalanche 4-3.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game midway through the third period to push the Columbus Blue Jackets over the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 on Saturday night.

Hartnell scored in the first period and got the tiebreaker in the third, helping the Blue Jackets overcome a terrible second period to beat the Hurricanes for the second time this week. Carolina has lost three straight.

Markus Hannikainen also scored, and Sergei Bobrovsky had 35 saves for Columbus.

Sebastian Aho and Justin Faulk scored in the second period for Carolina. Michael Leighton, recalled from Charlotte of the AHL on Thursday, started in place of Cam Ward and stopped 17 shots.

Hannikainen poked in the first goal for Columbus 4:49 into the game off a rebound in front of Carolina’s net. The shot through traffic resulted in the first goal and point of the 23-year-old rookie’s NHL career.

About 10 minutes later, Hartnell got a breakaway and slammed a slap shot past Leighton’s glove from just inside the blue line to put Columbus up 2-0 at the first break.

“I just tried to bury my head and shoot as hard as I could,” Hartnell said.

The second period belonged to the Hurricanes.

Carolina got the first one back on a power play 9:05 in when Aho picked up the loose puck off Jaccob Slavin‘s blocked slap shot and found the net from eight feet out.

Justin Faulk tied it at 2 when he carried the puck through the neutral zone and snapped off a shot from the right circle that rattled off the bar and in with 4:33 left. Carolina outshot Columbus 9-2 in the period, and Blue Jackets players went to the penalty box four times.

Hartnell got the winner when he took a pass from Sam Gagner and knocked it in from 13 feet with 9:35 left.

Carolina pulled the goalie with 2:32 left but couldn’t tie it.

Video: The Sabres weren’t happy with Emelin after dangerous hit on Moulson

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Alexei Emelin has once again drawn the ire of opposing players.

This time, it was the Buffalo Sabres responding to a hit thrown by Emelin, who caught Matt Moulson with a dangerous hit from behind into the boards during the second period of their game on Saturday.

A massive scrum ensued right over top of Emelin and Moulson along the boards.

Emelin, who has a history of massive and questionable hits throughout his career (See here, here and here for examples) was given a minor penalty for boarding on the play.

Video: Simmonds drops the gloves with Wood

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Wayne Simmonds is not only a productive power forward, but he’s one tough customer.

He showed that again Saturday, dropping the gloves with Miles Wood of the New Jersey Devils during the first period.

The fight occurred right after Wood drove Radko Gudas hard into the boards on the forecheck. The scrap didn’t last long, however, with Simmonds landing a few shots and then taking the Devils forward to the ice.

Simmonds was assessed an extra roughing minor.